QUESTION: Medication Access for Prisoners

question / pregunta: 

Are there studies of how often prisoners are denied access to medications while incarcerated? I am putting together a workshop on disability issues for environmental activists. One of the topics I will be addressing is activism by disabled people and the decision to risk arrest. This is also an important question for trans activists who take hormones. There are a lot of individual news items and cases out there, but I am looking for something more systematic and comprehensive.


I just did a database search on < medication* prison* withh* > and am sending you the following articles:

  • Victoria A Kellogg. 2009. Exploring a prisoner's eighth amendment right to health care. Journal of Nursing Law 13 (3): 78.
  • Linder, John F., and Frederick J. Meyers. 2007. Palliative care for prison inmates: "don't let me die in prison". JAMA : The Journal of the American Medical Association 298 (8): 894-901.
  • McDonnell, Melissa, and Robert T. M. Phillips. 2010. Physicians should treat mentally ill death row inmates, even if treatment is refused. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 38 (4): 774-88.
  • Merjian, Armen H. 2010. Lonesome agony: Heard v. the district of columbia and the struggle against disability discrimination in the D.C. penal system. American Criminal Law Review 47 (4): 1491.
  • Williams, Otis, III, Alex L. Pieterse, Chante DeLoach, Mark A. Bolden, Jared Ball, and Sirein Awadalla. 2010. Beyond health disparities: Examining power disparities and industrial complexes from the views of frantz fanon (part 1). Journal of Pan African Studies 3 (8): 151.
  • Hoppel, Ann M. 2011. Health care behind bars. Clinician Reviews 21 (11):

I did a literature search as well to find additional references. I used BioMed Central, an open access resource, meaning that every article is available for free for everyone and PubMed, an authoritative source to find scientific articles about health. Every free article has the following note: [FREE]. If you cannot access some articles you need, you can try to get them from your local public library or, maybe, from another colleague from Radical Reference since the access I have at work doesn't allow me to do so.

BioMed Central
Search: "health care" OR "access to care" OR medication* OR "prescription drug" OR "prescription drugs" OR meds (Any word) in Citation and abstract , and prison OR prisoner* OR inmate* OR convict* OR incarcerated (Any word) in Citation and abstract)

Most relevant results:

  • [FREE] Changes in health-related quality of life following imprisonment in 92 women in England: a three month follow-up study
    Emma Plugge, Nick Douglas, Ray Fitzpatrick
    International Journal for Equity in Health 2011, 10:21 (25 May 2011)
    Click for article
  • [FREE] Medication management and practices in prison for people with mental health problems: a qualitative study
    Robert A Bowen, Anne Rogers, Jennifer Shaw
    International Journal of Mental Health Systems 2009, 3:24 (20 October 2009)
    Click for article
  • [FREE] Harm reduction and equity of access to care for French prisoners: a review
    Laurent Michel, M Patrizia Carrieri, Alex Wodak
    Harm Reduction Journal 2008, 5:17 (21 May 2008)
    Click for article

Search: ("prisoners"[MeSH Terms] OR "prisoners"[All Fields] OR "prisoner"[All Fields]) AND (access[All Fields] AND ("delivery of health care"[MeSH Terms] OR ("delivery"[All Fields] AND "health"[All Fields] AND "care"[All Fields]) OR "delivery of health care"[All Fields] OR "healthcare"[All Fields]))

Most relevant results:

  • [In progress, not available yet] Eur J Health Law. 2013 Mar;20(1):5-19.
    Prisoners right to healthcare, a European perspective.
    Abbing HR.
    Click for abstract
  • J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2012 May;23(2):557-69. doi: 10.1353/hpu.2012.0048.
    Health care of pregnant women in U.S. state prisons.
    Ferszt GG, Clarke JG.
    Click for abstract
  • [FREE] J Community Health. 2010 Jun;35(3):268-74. doi: 10.1007/s10900-010-9234-9.
    Is incarceration a contributor to health disparities? Access to care of formerly incarcerated adults.
    Kulkarni SP, Baldwin S, Lightstone AS, Gelberg L, Diamant AL.
    Click for abstract and article
  • J Correct Health Care. 2009 Oct;15(4):280-91. doi: 10.1177/1078345809340423. Epub 2009 Jul 27.
    Health care policies addressing transgender inmates in prison systems in the United States.
    Brown GR, McDuffie E.
    Click for abstract
  • [FREE]Am J Public Health. 2009 Apr;99(4):666-72. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2008.144279. Epub 2009 Jan 15.
    The health and health care of US prisoners: results of a nationwide survey.
    Wilper AP, Woolhandler S, Boyd JW, Lasser KE, McCormick D, Bor DH, Himmelstein DU.
    Click for abstract and article

Hope it helps!

Here's some lightly edited additional feedback from activist and author Victoria Law:

Prisons often

  • deny medications to chronically ill/disabled people
  • deny hormones & medications to trans people
  • house trans people according to their gender-assigned-at-birth (thus putting trans women at huge risk of sexual assault by both staff & incarcerated men)
  • often place trans people not only in jails according to gender-assigned-at-birth, but also place them in solitary confinement (also increasing their risk of sexual assault by staff 'cuz no one can see what's going on)

There's Prison Legal News, which mostly focuses on legal cases & victories (and failures). ...keep up with who is filing what for what egregious injustice.

Prison Health News...does keep up with health-related issues in prison

See if you can get the keynote speech "Epistemic Injustices in Correctional Health Care: Policies Affecting LGBTQI Prison Populations," by Andrea Pitts, Vanderbilt University.